Opinion: In defense of school choice and market-based education reforms

An essay on the Get Schooled blog on three decades of schools reform in Chile by Alfredo Gaete of Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile and Stephanie Jones of the University of Georgia sparked a lot of discussion nationwide — and some criticisms.

No hedIn their piece, the two education researchers contend the purported Chilean school reform miracle is a mirage, and urged the United States to slow its pursuit of market-based solutions to education challenges.

Among those who sent me critiques were the Cato Institute and the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. I am sharing their critiques as well as a response from Gaete and Jones.

First, from Andrew J. Coulson, director of education policy for Cato:

AJC’s March 24 op-ed on Chilean education by Gaete and Jones makes several factually incorrect claims. First, it asserts that “there is no clear evidence that [Chilean] students have significantly improved their performance on standardized tests” under that nation’s public/private school choice program.

On the contrary, a joint Harvard / Stanford study (“Achievement Growth”) finds that Chile is one of the fastest-improving nations in the world on PISA — international test of 15-year-olds in three subjects. Moreover, as Prof. Gregory Elacqua has shown, the decade-long academic improvement of Chilean students is also visible on the SIMCE, Chile’s own national testing system.

Second, Gaete and Jones claim that “there is now consensus among researchers that both the educational and the socioeconomic gaps have been increased.” The evidence indicates otherwise. Prof. Elacqua cites PISA data showing that most of Chile’s academic growth is due to gains by students of low-to-middling socioeconomic-status. He observes that “Chile is the country that made the most progress in narrowing the achievement gap between 2000 and 2009 in PISA literacy.”

The latest (2012) PISA data confirm that Chile continues to improve faster than other participating countries, and is once again the highest-performing nation in Latin America.

Perhaps Dr. Gaete should seek out Prof. Elacqua to learn about the PISA and SIMCE evidence — after all, both gentlemen work at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile.

And from Robert Enlow, Friedman Foundation president and CEO:

Gov. Nathan Deal is under much fire for wanting to bring parent-driven reforms to Georgia with his plan to launch a recovery school model to the state, similar to what is found in New Orleans. His proposal would allow the state to take over consistently failing schools and enable private management companies to open charter schools in failing neighborhoods.

Skeptics say this follows in the footsteps of Milton Friedman’s greatest influence in South America – Chile– where reforms of the past 30 years have radically reformed and improved public education.

Two scholars who blogged for the AJC on the Chilean miracle seem to have repeated the mantra of the current Chilean Administration and left out key data points that a state like Georgia could only hope to achieve with a recovery district.

In fact, it is going to take a much greater infusion of parent choice and private sector influence – meaning competition from private schools, not just a few recovery school experiments – for Georgia’s public schools to be even more motivated to improve. We would like to see Deal take a bolder step and embrace vouchers for all children just as leaders did in Chile and watch beautiful changes unfold for children.

In a 2012 report, scholars Eric A. Hanushek, Paul E. Peterson and Ludger Woessman found that during a 14-year period from 1995 to 2009, Chile ranked second in gains among educational leaders of the world with students gaining more than two years in learning compared to less than one year among American students.

A winter 2014 article in Education Next reported that Chile went from spending $360 per child in the 1990s to approximately $3,000 per full-time student today with parents now being able to choose public or private schools. Most of those private schools are for-profit schools. The results have been incredible improvements for students. Among them:

Testing was introduced at all schools to give parents information on how students were performing. And sanctions were imposed on low-performing schools including school-closures. Education policies were revised so that teachers from other professions were allowed lateral entry. The Chilean government implemented merit pay to incentivize teachers to work in schools that needed improvement and encourage teachers to work in schools that served low income families.

The government implemented a public-school teacher evaluation plan to dismiss teachers receiving negative evaluations for three years in a row. High school graduation and college enrollments soared as Chilean students now graduate high school at close to 90 percent compared to about 50 percent in the 1990s. Only 15 percent enrolled in college in the 1990s, while today 50 percent do.

Chile has moved to the top of the scale as the wealthiest nation in Latin America with a GDP per capita of $15,000 today compared to $6,500 in the 1990s. Chile has cut its poverty rate by two-thirds and has almost eradicated extreme poverty.

Education is the lifeblood of a successful individual and can spur economic growth.

Yet today there is push-back against these market reforms which help Chileans of all income levels. The resistance is led by the government of President Michelle Bachelet, a Socialist who is aligned with the country’s Communist forces. She is taking steps to dismantle the education programs that help those that need help the most.

Her mantra is income inequality and she blames the free market forces in education. According to the Cato Institute, income inequality still exists in Chile but dramatic progress is being made among low income students on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) – so much that the achievement gap between rich and poor is narrowing faster than in the United States where there is much less school choice.

As part of her campaign against the private sector, President Bachelet has banned the growing number of for-profit schools. It is unclear if these schools will close or convert to non-profit status, but either way, an estimated 1 million students could potentially lose a seat at their school if their school shut down.

The United States – and Georgia in particular – can learn lessons from this nation of almost 18 million where there is more private-sector school choice than almost anywhere else in the world. What was once an impoverished nation has now risen to become the most affluent in Latin America, thanks in part to the ability of more children to achieve a quality education.

If parents like their neighborhood schools and what they offer, they should have the ability to retain their children at those schools. But if they aspire for a greater challenge for their children, all children should have a chance at a different education that better meets their needs – and perhaps gives them a brighter future.

And here is the response from Gaete and Jones:

We acknowledge that in Chile, like in the United States, the debate over what counts as data, how data is interpreted, and the measures that are used to indicate educational achievement and improvement is ongoing and often influenced by broader political and economic ideologies and goals. That being said, we respond below to questions about specific claims made in our essay.

First of all, our statement is that there’s no “clear” evidence that students’ scores have improved. This is quite relevant, since a main idea inspiring the “Chilean experiment” was to show that a private, market based education would be “clearly” superior.

It is this that the last three decades failed to show. Controlling for socioeconomic variables, there are no big differences between the private and public system in the SIMCE. Moreover, there are some public schools, e.g., the “Instituto Nacional,” that select students as much as private schools do and that, interestingly, do better than most of the latter in standardized testing.

According to former consultant to the Ministry of Education (and one of the leading Chilean researchers in the area) C. Bellei, not only do we not have empirical grounds to assert that private schools have been more effective than public schools; furthermore, he says, the outcomes of studies have tended to be biased in favor of private schools, in such a way that the latter may happen to be less effective.

At any rate, the average difference between private and public schools is so small that they are close to be irrelevant.

Now it is true that Chile has shown a certain improvement in his relative position in PISA scores. But (1) this may say less about Chilean improvements and more about other countries’ relapse; and (2) these results are controversial among researchers anyway.

Additionally, standardized testing is neither the only nor the best way or criterion to determine the quality of an educational system, it is simply the way favored by market-oriented systems. Another criterion that could be used is equity and inclusion.

In particular, there is increasing agreement among educators and researchers that diverse, heterogeneous schools are better that homogeneous, segregated ones.

The following is an excerpt from the conclusions of a recent empirical analysis of the socioeconomic status school segregation in Chile:

 “Summarizing, we found that the magnitude of the socioeconomic school segregation in Chile was very high and tended to slightly increase during the last decade; we also found that private schools – including voucher schools – were more segregated than public schools; and we estimated that some educational market dynamics (i.e. privatization, school choice, and fee paying) accounted for a relevant proportion of the Chilean socioeconomic status school segregation.

We interpret these findings as broadly consistent with our hypothesis that links SES school segregation and market-oriented mechanisms in education, which is additionally supported by recent international reports based on PISA 2009 (OECD 2010a) and handbook chapters specialized on these issues (Gill and Booker 2008), which demonstrated that larger private school participation on educational market is not coupled with improvement on the average national standardized test scores but it is strongly related to more segregated and unequal educational systems” (“Socioeconomic school segregation in a market-oriented educational system. The case of Chile”. Published in the Journal of Education Policy, 2014, Vol. 29, No. 2, p. 233).

All in all, and beyond the different possible interpretations of a same set of data (which is always possible in social science), what we have to acknowledge is that the privatization of education is far from being the panacea once sold by the advocates and designers of the Chilean neoliberal educational model.

The fact is that after 30 years Chilean people are not convinced by such a model and, moreover, they are massively demanding, not any change, but a radical change. The US should learn something from this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reader Comments 0

54 comments
Linette_Lyle
Linette_Lyle

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thenoticer
thenoticer

How great is choice when you don't get chosen for the school you want to attend? If you choose to go to a school and they can't take everyone who applies, you go back to your neighborhood school. Until this issues gets resolved I don't see how we can fairly call this a system of choice schools.

JBBrown1968
JBBrown1968

Yes......Astropig......heals, trolls only come out to play when they feel Superior! One troll in the boat and a cool bill on the bet!

dcdcdc
dcdcdc

so the net from the skeptics is "it is clear Chili has made great progress", but....but...but it can't be because we gave parents and students the ability to choose where they went to school.  It just can't be.


SO THERE!!  


What idiocy.

Astropig
Astropig

@dcdcdc


Their president is a (self described) socialist. I would say that this should tend to discredit any comments she would make about any "market based" reforms,wouldn't you?

JBBrown1968
JBBrown1968

Eduktr..........It is evident you are not from Georgia. Union.....Union.... Union....did you click your heals? Still not real in Georgia.

JBBrown1968
JBBrown1968

Very good point. Status quo defenders strongly imply that their preferred means of public education could never survive the introduction of true choice


What is true choice.......paying your company to take Georgia Tax dollars? In a real world maybe some of these union teachers could tell you snotty parents little John really is not college material…… His private school education was a joke. Little John is just average. You trolls up for real choice? This choice thing could work-out! 

JBBrown1968
JBBrown1968

Glad to see the trolls working so hard! How much are you being paid for the crap you write? You and astronut must work for the same company. Put down the Kool-Aid and get out of your parents basement.

EdUktr
EdUktr

With tuition vouchers you would be perfectly free to place your kids in a traditional public school with zero accountability and little testing. Perhaps even unionized teachers.

You just couldn't force other parents to.

Astropig
Astropig

@EdUktr


Very good point. Status quo defenders strongly imply that their preferred means of public education could never survive the introduction of true choice.If its as good as they say,they'd welcome choice because people would choose the traditional schools that they love so much.


Funny how these mossbacks like income redistribution until it's their income being redistributed.

Quidocetdiscit
Quidocetdiscit

@EdUktr


"With tuition vouchers you would be perfectly free to place your kids in a traditional public school with zero accountability and little testing."


Where in the world are these traditional schools with zero accountability and little testing?  Where, pray tell? Do you even know the current accountability laws governing traditional schools?  Or are you saying that with vouchers, suddenly all the rules and restrictions placed on public schools would be removed?  That traditional schools would suddenly be able to innovate and use all the money and time wasted on testing and accountability to actually support student learning?  

EdUktr
EdUktr

@Quidocetdiscit @EdUktr

Certainly, once parents are empowered with real choices the pressure to improve failing schools will come primarily from the marketplace. 

Schools unable to win the trust of parents will simply disappear.


HollyJones
HollyJones

I'm trying to figure out the "parent driven" reforms cited by Enlow.   The only reforms I hear about are those driven by folks who stand to benefit financially.   Parents have indeed been asking for changes, but not the ones proposed in the OSD bills.  

class80olddog
class80olddog

@HollyJones  So what have parents been asking for?  Schools that actually can teach?  Schools where their kids are not afraid of bullies?  Schools where their kids can learn without being grouped in with students that are six grades behind? 

HS_Math_Teacher
HS_Math_Teacher

All of the reform efforts Georgia has made in the last 7 or 8 years reminds me of watching bumper cars at a county fair.

popacorn
popacorn

Or, as the late, great Isaac Newton uses to say, 'A body in motion tends to stay in motion, unless an outside force acts upon it.' 

Fear the Physics, educators. 

popacorn
popacorn

Regarding classroom discipline, the old saying is ''lay down the law on the first day, or you will lose the students forever'. Sadly, the same goes for the ones who teach. The zero accountability gravy train has been chugging for so long, stopping it and reversing course is proving almost impossible. A train rolling off a cliff is not a pretty sight, and derailing it by any means necessary becomes preferable. 

Astropig
Astropig

@popacorn 

But progress is definitely being made,although maddeningly slow sometimes. The amendment that passed in 2012 (charters) and the OSD amendment (passed by the legislature,to be voted on by the public)were "wildest fantasy" type reforms not that long ago.The debate has shifted like tectonic plates (slowly,violently),but it has shifted.

Looking4truth
Looking4truth

Not that I have anything against for-profit companies - I've worked for them before my current career.


For-profit educational management companies are just the latest incarnation of government/military contractors, who say they can do the job better for less money, but then charge the government full price for their services.  Remember the $900 hammers a few years ago? 


If a parent wants their child to go to a privately managed school, they should pay the freight to do so.  At the same time, we should keep in mind the reasons to have good public schools in each and every neighborhood.  1.  They are responsible for educating all comers regardless of SES and abilities.  2.  A good school system brings in businesses and, in turn, jobs.  3.  Good public schools raise property values for homeowners (including senior citizens). 


Education is an investment in our future - not a business.  Selective, for-profit schools do not perform these vital functions. 


class80olddog
class80olddog

@Looking4truth "If a parent wants their child to go to a privately managed school, they should pay the freight to do so."


Why should a parent have to pay twice to get a good education for their child, simply because their school is so corrupt and mismanaged that it cannot get the job done? 

Starik
Starik

@Looking4truth Stop, please, referring to "neighborhood schools."  In DeKalb County there aren't any, at least above the sixth grade.

sneakpeakintoeducation
sneakpeakintoeducation

@class80olddog @Looking4truth


Because our public schools are the investment our communities make to ensure that all students can attend a local, community school no matter what their background or ability to pay is. It is an investment that ensures we have an educated public.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@sneakpeakintoeducation @class80olddog @Looking4truth  And that exact same thing would be accomplished with vouchers - it just would add one more item - parental choice.  How does paying a public school $12000 differ from paying a private school $12000?  To accomplish the same goal - education of a child?  Of course, when you send $12000 to DeKalb county, they skim off $6000 to pay for their "friends and family" program, which benefits no students. 

class80olddog
class80olddog

There are limited "market-based" educational systems in the US and they function extremely well to offer better educational choices to those with the money.  I am speaking of private schools, which are great schools if you can afford them.  Also, a secondary system is in place for those who are financially able to move to a zip code that offers great schools.  Not quite as costly as private schooling, but offers great choice.  Whenever I moved, I always chose to live in the area with the best schools (also protected my home value).


The ones who are trapped are the people who cannot afford private schools or the luxury of moving to a great schools district.  These are the ones who could benefit from Charters or from vouchers.  Unfortunately, the broken and "failing" school systems are the ones who fight against these things the most - because in a competitive market, they would LOSE. 

Buttercup23
Buttercup23

Cato institute..what a joke that is.  The Cato institute is a Koch funded right wing think tank.  Back in 1980 when David Koch ran for office his platform said basically they wanted Public Education destroyed, replaced with private or for Profit schools.  Since that time, have you noticed, when Republican Governors are elected they've been going out of their way to start up these Charters schools, give vouchers out.  There is a reason, they are following the Koch plan to destroy public schools.  It's their way of privatizing everything, making government small enough to fit in a bathtub, one of their favorite saying.  Somethings should not be in that category and Public Education is one, along with Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, etc.  Here is the long list of what the Koch's/ALEC want to privatize or destroy.  Pick out the ones they've already destroy or close to it.  www.sanders.senate.gov/koch-brothers  Read it and weep.  Vote for a Republican at your own peril.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@Buttercup23 


Politically, you are on target.  Not only "fit in a bathtub," but also their stated purpose has been to make government small enough to "fit into a bathtub, and then drown it."  Out-of-balance, radical ideology, imo, which has been hurting our nation for some time. 


Excerpt from the link, below: "The movement erupted into full bloom in 2001, when Congress passed the Bush tax cut package; at the time, (Grover) Norquist crowed: "I don't want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub."


http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2011/10/republicans-job-creation-kill

Astropig
Astropig

@MaryElizabethSings @Buttercup23 

I'll have to confess that I'm totally confused here.Just last week, government was too big and intrusive and creating an unwieldy new bureaucracy to take over the schools, but now its too small to be effective and promote societal progress via running the schools.


It's really hard to keep up with the party line here. Help!

Astropig
Astropig

@MaryElizabethSings @Astropig


I don't feel that I can find all the answers 'alone'. I listen to all points of view and decide which one(s) make the most sense.There is a lot to be learned from others,if you'll just open your mind to it.


(But hurry-time is running out)

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@Astropig @MaryElizabethSings


You misrepresented what I wrote.  I said thinking for yourself, alone, not "believing that you can find all the answers alone." 


Of course, I believe there is much to be learned from others.  That is why I value reading the thoughts of our brilliant Founding Fathers as well as the perceptions of great writers, such as Victor Hugo. That is why a liberal arts education is necessary to our continuation of our democratic Republic. A populace full of one-dimensional thinking people, even if astute in business or science, will not carry our beloved nation over time.  We must have those of deeper and artistic visions giving their insights, also.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@Astropig @MaryElizabethSings


No, that is not what I said.  I am a seeker and I want to encourage all to be seekers of ken beyond their present understanding, as I try to do for myself.  That trait is why I was a born-to-be teacher.

popacorn
popacorn

@MaryElizabethSings @Astropig 

This from from the Teacher's Babbling Dictionary-

seeker: (n) charlatan, one who deludes him/herself, full of bologna, part of the problem, not the solution

Astropig
Astropig

@MaryElizabethSings @Astropig 

I would never imply that you (of all people) would need mind altering drugs to have an inflated sense of self. Glad to correct the record.

JBBrown1968
JBBrown1968

Eduktr....... Slowly, I will say so you can understand......there.....are.... no.... teacher...unions.... in....Georgia. What company is paying you to troll? I need a job. 

JBBrown1968
JBBrown1968

Why do you trolls comment on every article? Where can I get a paying gig like yours? You must be getting paid, or have the saddest life in the world. If nothing else there are websites that will let you buy a wife or a husband. There should be a law against posting bull shot opinion in the newspaper every day with fake names! Cowards, crooks and politicians always have a solution.

EdUktr
EdUktr

The argument from the left over vouchers never is about what's best for kids. It's always about what's best for teachers' unions and the left-leaning politicians/causes benefiting from union cash. Or very nearly so.

Let's at least stop pretending otherwise.

https://www.opensecrets.org/orgs/summary.php?id=D000000064

Astropig
Astropig

It really doesn't matter what Cato or Universidad De ChileDog says about market based solutions to educational challenges.The fact is that the conclusions and recommendations from each side of the "debate" will simply reinforce what people already believe about their conclusions and beliefs. As you will see in perusing the comments above and below,the usuals on both sides will look at the same set of facts and refuse to believe or lend credence to anything that doesn't dovetail nicely with their pre-concieved opinions and beliefs.


People that believe in free markets and free minds will line up on one side of the debate and liberal statists on the other. Thus it has been for a couple of hundred years (and counting) and will continue until all of todays commenters are long gone.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@Astropig


I believe in capitalism as the economic engine of our nation, but I also believe that it should function within an elevated consciousness of egalitarian humanity.  I, also, believe that public education should not be a product of the free market, which is money- and profit-oriented, not service-oriented. 


Thomas Jefferson believed, as do I, that public education for all of America's citizens should be funded by the tax-payers for the common good of all.  Profit was not in Jefferson's mind relative to the education, and enlightenment, of America's young.